Reviewed by: The Exile

"Our culture's insistence that appearances don't matter to the average woman is not only insulting, it's false."

Loath as I am to jinx anything, it's beginning to look like we'll actually get through Valentine's Day this year without Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meeting cute, fighting cuter and reconciling cutest of all. That's the good news. The bad news is the front-runner for the V-Day void is Andy Tennant's Hitch, a prodigiously misconceived rom-com helmed by a director who clearly learned nothing from our tepid reaction to Fools Rush In and Sweet Home Alabama.

Hitch is conclusive proof, if any were needed, that the romantic comedy has officially run aground on the shores of postmodernism. While the often irritating Hanks/Ryan partnership owed more to Popeye and Olive Oyl than Bogie and Bacall, its endearingly dated premises and saccharine set-ups were at least balanced by Nora Ephron's tart dialogue and two stars perfect for each other. Their climactic moments, achieved despite the impediment of Meg's Mormon-thrift-store outfits, may have generated less erotic heat than a Donny and Marie Christmas Special, but no movie couple ever looked happier anticipating the missionary position.

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The stars of Hitch, however, have a more arduous assignment: create a believable love connection between a man who makes his living manipulating women and a woman whose job has inured her to all forms of male trickery. The role of Alex Hitchens, a self-dubbed "date doctor," who helps klutzy, unappealing men land the women of their dreams, is perfect for Will Smith - all he has to do is break out the Fresh Prince and stand back. And Eva Mendes's self-possessed Sara, a hardboiled gossip columnist who lives for her work, is a nice change for this appealing Cuban-American actress whose bright goofiness was a highlight of 2003's Stuck On You.

While Alex is pulling strings for others, the comedy - as Shakespeare and Jane Austen well knew - should flow naturally from the idiocy of believing love can be so easily controlled. But Tennant and first-time screenwriter Kevin Bisch, lacking the wit to play this out, have opted for coolness over emotional humility. Alex is a creature of distance, a puppeteer of the heart who repeatedly proves a woman's love can be seized by any chump willing to throw himself between her pooch and the wheels of a cab. The character's professional success, however, is a denial of the very assumption on which this entire genre rests: the wayward ungovernability of romantic fate.

What the movie also never dares to address is the contempt for female malleability that's an inevitable consequence of continually foisting defective males on gorgeous, prosperous women. TV sitcoms, of course, have been doing this for years, with the portly Kevin James perhaps the most visible beneficiary. Here he's at it again, playing a blubbery accountant sniffing after Amber Valletta's slinky socialite. I understand it may be comforting for legions of male couch potatoes with no clear memory of their feet to see the King of Queens get lucky every week with Leah Remini (or Amber Valletta); but our culture's insistence that appearances don't matter to the average woman is not only insulting, it's false.

If the romantic comedy is to survive at all, the real challenge lies in aligning the sexual sophistication of today's dating scene with the warmth and spontaneity the genre requires - hipness and sincerity are uneasy partners at best. But it can be done, and without the need for contrived, clueless scenarios like those in Hitch. Brad Anderson's 1998 gem, Next Stop Wonderland, and last year's Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind are only two excellent examples. You can probably rent both for the price of a ticket to Hitch and neither will remind you for one second of Sleepless In Seattle, or You've Got Mail.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2005
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Hitch packshot
Date doctor struggles to win the heart of a good lady.
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Read more Hitch reviews:

Josh Morrall ****
Gator MacReady **1/2

Director: Andy Tennant

Writer: Kevin Bisch

Starring: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Julie Ann Emery, Robinne Lee, Nathan Lee Graham, Adam Arkin, Michael Rapaport

Year: 2005

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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